Special Warfare Training Wing Airman wins Lance P. Sijan Leadership Award

Special Warfare Training Wing Airman wins Lance P. Sijan Leadership Award


U.S. Air Force Capt. Marc Esposito, 350th Special Warfare Training Squadron flight commander, was presented with the Lance P. Sijan Award at the Pentagon, Apr. 8, 2024.

The Lance P. Sijan Leadership Award recognizes Airmen who demonstrate the highest qualities of leadership in the performance of their duties and conduct of their lives. The award is one of the U.S. Air Force’s most prestigious awards and is named after U.S. Air Force Capt. Lance P. Sijan, a Vietnam War pilot who received the Medal of Honor posthumously for his courage while evading capture and during his captivity as a prisoner of war.

“It is a tremendous honor to be personally recognized as a 2023 USAF Sijan recipient,” said Esposito. “This award to me reflects teamwork: investments from my leaders, my team’s grit, and our collective dedication to the mission. I am thankful for the constant challenge while accomplishing our mission, and thankful to be in the presence of greatness everyday.”

As a flight commander at the 350th SWTS, Esposito is responsible for AETC’s most operationally diverse flight, leading 54 active duty, civilian and contract instructors, managing a budget of $3.6M, resulting in the assessment of over 900 Airmen for entry into Air Force Special Warfare career fields.

“Captain Esposito has been instrumental in the success of the mission here at the 350th Special Warfare Training Squadron,” said Lt. Col. Robert Effler, 350th SWTS commander. “His tireless work ethic, remarkable character and experience have been key to the leadership and mentorship of his flight and the countless students that he has developed.”

Esposito entered the USAF in 2004, immediately assessing for and entering the combat control career field. Right away, the unique character and mission set of CCT spoke to Esposito.

“I was drawn to the journey being a part of high functioning teams, the adventure, the inherent dangers, and the autonomy to tackle our nation’s most complex problems that impact the course of history. It’s the kind of job I always dreamed of as a kid.”

In 2009, Esposito was caught in a firefight, simultaneously controlling close air support, and firing a machine gun while in the back of a Humvee when the vehicle hit a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan, catapulting him through the air before slamming him to the ground. Esposito was unconscious for several days before waking up at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where he was treated for extensive injuries that included severe burns, broken bones in his legs, feet and back, as well as a traumatic brain injury.

“After being blown up, my life, the teams I worked with and everything I worked for was ripped from my hands”, said Esposito. “I lost control of who I was in that instant. Going to war, I knew death was a possibility, and always something I could accept, but living with disabilities was never part of the plan. My attitude and motivation were still intact, so I refused to accept the new reality; we learn on day one in AFSPECWAR that quitting is not an option.”

After a long road to recovery spanning almost 18 months of rehabilitation and having to re-learn how to walk, Esposito was eventually declared fit for duty. It didn’t take long before the itch to do more hit once again and Esposito decided to assess for the special tactics officer career field.

“Special tactics officer selection and the combat rescue officer selection [both often referred to as Phase Two] is no joke; a snapshot of the 18-24 month pipeline the candidates will go through if selected,” said Esposito. “From the moment I was notified I’d be going, I started training deliberately for extended periods of physical stress. Already an established Combat Controller and instructor, it was actually nice to be the ‘nail’ once again and it served as a humbling reminder that regardless of who you are or what you’ve been through in AFSPECWAR, you must push yourself every day.”

After becoming a STO, Esposito remained in AETC where he became the executive to the commander of the then-new Battlefield Airmen Training Group that would set the groundwork for the future Special Warfare Training Wing. Following that assignment, he was assigned to the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, where he deployed to Korea and Germany, serving as a flight commander and operations deputy.

In 2021, Esposito transitioned to his current role as a flight commander at the 350th SWTS, where he credits his teammates with the success that they have experienced.

“What is most fulfilling is to see my team succeed in our mission and be recognized at such high levels. I am fortunate to have the some of the top distinguished leaders in AFSPECWAR embedded in my flight, where we maintain a high-trust environment. It’s a good place to be when you’re in the business of developing humans into the most effective rescue and weapons systems in the world.”

As a flight commander, Esposito has mentored and molded future Air Force Special Warfare operators while also finding time to serve the community and leading high-visibility projects. He led specialized training for military and civilian teams by establishing networks with San Antonio’s local Special Weapons and Tactics teams and the NASA buoyancy lab while also serving as the lead for a three-year, $2.3M USAF RAND study that identified actionable items for AFSPECWAR’s first-ever Assessment and Selection course for prospective candidates.

“Marc represents the best of us and it’s only fitting that he is recognized as one of the best in the Air Force,” said Col. Nathan Colunga, SWTW commander. “We are incredibly proud of all of his accomplishments that have led up to the Sijan Award and look forward to everything else he will achieve in life.”

When asked what it was like receiving the Lance P. Sijan Leadership Award, Esposito stated that it was a full-circle moment for him and his family.

“After being injured in 2009, I was pushed into the Pentagon in my wheelchair to be honored. Almost 15 years later, it was surreal to be walking in with my whole family, proudly wearing my uniform. What means a lot to me is that I can give my family this experience. In the footsteps of Lance P. Sijan, this honor carries with it a solemn pledge to continue pushing boundaries, overcoming challenges, and serving with honor and distinction. Receiving this honor is a humbling experience, knowing that it symbolizes the trust and respect of peers and superiors alike. It serves as a reminder of the responsibility to continue striving for excellence and to serve as an inspiration to others.”

If you are interested in pursuing a career in AFSPECWAR, please visit www.specialwarfaretw.af.mil/Potential-Candidates

By Special Warfare Training Wing Public Affairs

Special Warfare Training Wing

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